Gap Theory 2 – Why Does AT&T Do Stupid Things?

“Stupid is as Stupid does.” – Forrest Gump

I was feeling somewhat relaxed after posting the last piece on Gap Theory. At least until about 3:00 am the next morning.

I thought the next obvious question about the Gap would be “Why?” Why do we continue to wound ourselves with stupid, self-inflicted behaviors? And then my subconscious rudely awakened me to the suitability of the following very close-to-home example.

It began simply enough when my wife remarked to me one morning this week during her reading time,

“My phone just died!”

Not completely, but “going dark and cold” in the middle of an activity was unappreciated. Being the nerd of the family, I knew it fell to me to form an appropriate response,

“Does it turn back on?”

After a few moments, she responded,

“Yes, but this is getting more and more irritating.”

It wasn’t the first time the phone did this. It had happened intermittently, even with a new battery, but it was now getting more frequent and more obnoxious. As if an inanimate device can be obnoxious.

To be honest, this was an Apple iPhone 4s over four years old which had served her well for a long, long time. Since my iPhone 4s was continuing to chirp along seemingly unaffected by age, it was becoming clear, Time to Upgrade.

But it wasn’t as easy as that.

We are the “hangers-on” on an AT&T Family plan. Actually on our second Family plan, as we got bumped off of our first. (Transparency note: we, the parents, are actually the “child” phone numbers on our son’s “parent” account.  I hope this avoids any confusion, )

Presuming we might also be subject to getting bumped off of this Family plan, as well as needing permission to upgrade (“child” numbers, you know), we checked in with our “parent.” Upgrade eligible and okay! (four years is pretty long-in-the-tooth, cell phone wise). We decide the easiest way is for our son to order the upgrade online, drop ship to us, and we will activate while the current phone stays active. He placed the order and emailed us a copy of the order information so we could track it. Simple, eh?


The next day he sent us another email that AT&T had cancelled the order as they couldn’t validate his identity. It seems somewhere in their order processing, his billing address was substituted with our ship-to address.

Discussion ensued. We figured since there was a backorder on the phone my wife wanted, rather than further inconvenience our son, we should just go into a store to see if one was available and upgrade. To do that, our son needed to update the account to give me “authorized user” status and the passcode. Done. Off to see the AT&T Wizards of Wireless.

AT&T: “Sorry sir, placing your upgrade order isn’t going to work.”

Me: “Why not?”

AT&T: “The “authorized user” name on the account is ‘Jim.’ Your driver’s license says ‘James.’ Our order software will reject it. I know.”

Me: (inaudible mumbling)

AT&T: “Have your son edit the account and change the name to ‘James.’”

Somewhat amazed, our son made the changes as well as added my wife as an “authorized user,” just in case. The next day, both my wife and I go into the AT&T store. Having been in sales, I recognize the courtesy of dealing with the same sales person. Nice, and solved, eh?


AT&T:  “The ‘authorized users’ include ‘Jim,’ James,’ and your wife. Which one do you want to use?

Me: “Let’s use my wife’s name.”

He is accessing two computers simultaneously, and one device for scanning driver’s license and credit card. Fingers move as fast as the screens fly by. Much time passes. He engages in conversation,

AT&T: “What cable provider are you using?”

Me: “Verizon.”

AT&T: “Are you happy with it?”

Me: “Yes.”

AT&T: “How many channels do you have?”

Me: “Too many.”

AT&T: “I can get you cable for $50.” (Screens continue to fly by)

Me: “We also have internet and land line.”

AT&T: “How much are you paying?”

Me: I give him a figure.

AT&T: “I can get it for you for $xx” (a figure which is $5/month higher than what I said. I am puzzled).

Me: “No thanks” (more screens, then a pause)

AT&T: “There’s a problem with your credit card.”

Me: “What?”

AT&T: “It’s been rejected. Do you have a daily limit?”

Me: “No. And the credit limit is well beyond the order amount.”

AT&T: “Are you sure?”

Me: (more inaudible mumbling) “Let’s try with my card.” (short pause)

AT&T: “That’s been rejected also.”

Me: (now concerned about identity theft) “Let’s cancel the order.”

AT&T (indifferently): “Okay.”

Besides a rather perfunctory and indifferent attitude on behalf of the sales person (Note to Author: the heck with honoring the Sales Mantra of Right of First Capture), the oddity of rejection was a burden. Better to pursue at home.

Once home, there’s a text message from the credit card fraud unit, “Was this a valid charge by you, or not?” followed by a voice mail on our home phone. Very strange, as this has not happened in about 20 years and we just returned from Asia with no issues. Talking to them cleared the block and also revealed that the charge was originating, not from Central PA, but from AT&T in Atlanta, GA.

And it made sense. If credit card information is stolen, the typical thing that someone would buy would be small expensive electronics that can be fenced easily. And the easiest place to acquire these? A wireless phone store comes to mind.

Then I ask myself, why wasn’t the sales person somewhat aware of this possible situation? The credit card block could have been cleared on the spot (the text had come in fairly quickly).

An hour after the store experience, at home I’m ready to spend, again. I get on the phone to talk to a representative and go through the whole account, authorizations, and phone number identification.

AT&T: “Sir, that phone’s already been upgraded and is not eligible for another upgrade.”

Me: (after inaudible mumbling) “I’m sorry, as I said earlier, we tried to upgrade but cancelled the order. It still should be eligible.”

AT&T (after long discussion and being on hold while she talked to a supervisor): “Sir, I can upgrade that phone for you by using the upgrade for your other phone.”

Me: “NO! I intend on using that sometime later. Can’t you simply clear that upgrade flag?”

AT&T: “No sir. You will have to talk to AT&T Fraud. I’ll transfer you.”

So, here’s the rest of the story:

AT&T Fraud cannot clear the upgrade block because 1) they cannot clear blocks, and 2) there’s no fraud. They say Sales can clear the block, and send me there again to speak with a different rep.

AT&T Sales cannot clear the block even through a supervisor. The rep says, since he worked in a store, that the store sales software (not his online sales software – they’re “different”) has probably put a hold on the phone number upgrade until the “upgraded equipment” is returned.

There is no upgraded equipment. Unless I am missing something, one cannot walk out of a store with unavailable equipment put on backorder, especially when the order has been cancelled.

He suggests I contact the store and have it cleared. We do.

24 hours later, they still hadn’t called back.

The next day, on our drive to Boston, my wife receives an email thanking us for our order (?) and asking if we would like to respond to a customer satisfaction survey.


We relate, in short form, the experiences above. And then call the retail store again, relating the situation with another representative and asking for the manager. No manager.

Later, we do get a return phone call, with a proposed solution.

We need to bring in the existing phone and they will outfit it with a new SIM card (?), because as soon as they alter the upgrade block the phone number will be deactivated (??!) and we will have to wait until a new phone comes in (????!).

And that’s where it stands, as of now.

Yes, why do we keep wounding ourselves with avoidable, self-inflicted behaviors?

Because there’s a Gap between the Emotional Response to an Event and Discovering the Truth (or enough of it to feel confident). Or at least until we expend the effort to close the Gap.

It’s bad enough when an organization creates a Programmed Response to a particular Event, either by policy or by coding, without sufficient scenario testing (e.g., if you cancelled the order, or didn’t take the equipment, the phone hasn’t been upgraded.)

It gets worse, however, if the organization inadvertently programs obstacles to closing the Gap. Such as running a Customer Satisfaction procedure to close the Gap, but not creating an adequate escalation procedure and the authorities to implement it.

Or not providing permission levels and the authority to react to an unexpected “Event.”

Or by refusing to admit that the obstacles are even there.

Now, perhaps I can get a good night’s sleep.



About Jim Edmonds

I am a husband, father, mentor, who once was a chemist turned physicist turned marketer turned executive turned missionary turned professor. And survived it all.
This entry was posted in Gap Theory, Lessons from History and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Gap Theory 2 – Why Does AT&T Do Stupid Things?

  1. The answer to these problems? Get new “parents!”

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Carol Spradley says:

    I thought it was hysterical – and maybe because it’s an all too familiar sounding problem (maybe not with AT&T but there are others!). It’s like being in a foreign country and you’re not speaking the same language, even though you are…..

    Liked by 2 people

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